Impact of Touch on WebApps

February 21, 2010

For the past 20+ years, we are used to using intermediate devices like Mouse and Keyboard for input. Their replacements are Touch and Voice. While we are not there today for Voice, we are certainly are getting there on Touch replacing mouse (atleast in portable devices). Whenever we see such fundamental changes, there is always an opportunity. But these trends also mean changes have to be made in current products.

Consider the example on why iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad doesn’t support Flash. While there has been a lot of talk on this subject, the best technical explanation I have seen comes from a Flash developer on why Flash is not supported on iPhone/iPad.

Many (if not most) current Flash games, menus, and even video players require a visible mouse pointer. They are coded to rely on the difference between hovering over something (mouseover) vs. actually clicking. This distinction is not rare. It’s pervasive, fundamental to interactive design, and vital to the basic use of Flash content. New Flash content designed just for touchscreens can be done, but people want existing Flash sites to work. All of them—not just some here and there—and in a usable manner. That’s impossible no matter what.

I recommend reading the entire post.

Going beyond Flash, I actually think this explanation holds true for web apps too. This lack of mouseover functionality could make some web apps and even some websites unusable or less effective.

There are ton of webapps that use mouseover functions for many actions. Remember those drop-down menus on mouseover? Sites like Amazon, eBay, GoDaddy, BestBuy, Microsoft… they all use mouseover. Take eBay for example, the categories menu on the top left is a mouseover event. The action for mouseover event is different from onclick event.

All such mouseover functions have to be reconsidered while optimizing web applications for touch.

Does Touch kill mouseover function? I think it does.

It is not just mouseover function. But there are other things we are used to on the web like viewing Tooltips, viewing the URL in the status bar on mouseover without clicking the link…they will all be gone from the web if we are accessing it from touch-based devices. Is it a good thing? I think yes. Touch has its own advantages and I am sure we will find some innovative alternatives. These are small compromises in adopting the next major step.

Touch changes the way we use the web. We need to get used to it and vendors need to design their apps assuming this reality.

There has been some interesting discussion about Apple and iPad being closed. In many cases for Apple, I’d buy this argument, but regarding iPad being closed, I have to disagree. As I talked earlier, iPad is a gadget for non-techies. People who have been scared about the complexity of computers will be able to use it. So it is kind of like a toaster (a beautiful one, though) which is simple enough that every one understands. Do you care about what goes within a toaster or a microwave (unless you are in that feild)? They just work and that is all we care about. I put iPad under the same category. It just works, no crashes (thanks for not including Flash. It crashes my Safari EVERY day). It really doesn’t matter what goes within as long as it offers good value and is a pleasure to use.

Openness doesn’t always result in great end-user products. Look at many open source projects out there (I am talking about end-user products here, not server side marvels). How good is Linux? At the back-end, it is AWESOME. But for the end user, it is a pain in the rear. I’d put Android under the same category. It very much excites geeks, but is far from desirable, atleast to my taste (yes, I own an Android device but couldn’t use for more than a day).

This talk about not using a standard processor, not-replaceable battery etc…commmon. We are blaming Apple for creating a better product? Every single person who played with the iPad said it screams. Shouldn’t we blame other guys for not creating power efficient processors? We also blame them for closed AppStore etc. When Apple first said web apps will be the way to include third party apps on the iPhone, everyone panicked and asked Apple to open it up for developers. Two years and 140K apps later, we go back and scream that it is a closed platform and web apps are the way to go? That’s interesting.

For developers, I actually think iPhone/iPad platform is pretty open. Their APIs are pretty exhaustive and are improved constantly. I expect to see some innovative apps on the iPad. We have seen troubles with Android due to ‘openness’ (available in n devices, by m carriers with x number of screen sizes and y number of configurations). Android Market app sales talk for themselves. Contrast that with the iPhone App sales.

For end users, simplicity matters, a LOT. More than openness.

Most of the industry has been underwhelmed with the iPad launch. I for one, actually think this is a great device. It may not be for us, techies, but for rest of the world, it is going to be a great device.

This is a device I can hand it my grand father and he won’t have much trouble using it. Compare this to handing him a laptop and training him about how an OS works, what a drive is, what a file system is, why he needs an anti-virus software etc. Ease of use is the key here. Infact, we have seen this with iPhone already. Every day I see many 2-3 year old having absolutely no problem using the device. That makes a HUGE difference.

In a country like India, there are over 500 million mobile phones. But there are less than 15 Million computers (connected to the internet). Why is this the case? One of the reason is, PCs are complicated to use/learn for non-techies. I think this device can address a broader market as it hides the details from the user.

Ofcourse, mobility is a another huge factor here. India has less than 40Million landlines compared to 500Million mobile phones. Morgan Stanley report on mobile internet says mobile internet will cross desktop internet usage very soon. It is through devices like this we will see this happening and it is through devices like these the internet will reach the masses worldwide.

Sure, for techies, it can be yet another device between phone and a laptop solving a specific need, but for the rest of the world, I think this will be a great device and mostly their primary computer. Yes, there are some missing features initially, but they’ll be addressed and that is the evolution of any product. We have seen this with the iPhone and I am sure we will see this with iPad.

Overall, I see this as a first major step in the evolution of mobile computing. We will see a flurry of devices in coming months and years. But end of the day, it is all about software. In this case, iPad has the software dumbed down to the masses in a great form factor and in my view, it’ll be a winner.

iPhone Usage Stats

May 13, 2008

I was checking out my iPhone usage stats today and found that I did more than 1GB of data transfer on the iPhone just on the EDGE Network…excluding WiFi. This is freakishly high compared to my data transfer rates on my previous Blackberry Pearl.

The Data Received itself crossed 1GB and the data sent is around 200MB.

As I mentioned earlier, iPhone as an internet communicator impressed me more than other cool stuff. I can clearly see the change in my usage pattern and am sure I am not alone.

How does your usage stats look?

Sync between iTunes?

March 18, 2008

I am trying to find a simple Sync utility that synchronizes all my music, podcasts (atleast the configuration of podcasts), videos etc across multiple iTunes instances running in different machines. Do you know if there is any? If so, please let me know. I have been looking for something like this for a while.

Interestingly, Apple’s Sync functionality, that comes as part of the .Mac subscription, works for most of the other applications except iTunes. While it could be because of copyrighted content Apple doesn’t want to enable sync for iTunes, Apple certainly allows us to share/copy music manually between multiple instances (3 instances) of iTunes. May be they don’t want to make it easier to sync the copyrighted content?

I am essentially looking for a simple Sync tool that keeps my music etc synced between my iMac, MacBook Pro and Windows PC. Do let me know if you have any ideas.

If we look at this broadly, the Sync issues exist only when the apps/data reside on the desktops. If everything is on the cloud, we certainly can overcome these issues. Can we expect a weB-based iTunes? May be it is too much to ask from Apple….atleast for now.

There has been some interesting predictions on Android outselling iPhone. While this is interesting, it is too early to call.

The openness and free nature of Android will certainly make it very popular choice for most of the device manufacturers and carriers. But then, openness and flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean winning consumers.

I can’t help but compare Android to Linux. Both are open and gives the flexibility to the user/manufacturers/carriers. Like Linux, I expect Android to gain huge traction and gain decent market share. But then on the negative side, like Linux, we probably will see several versions of Android floating around going forward with a layer of carrier/device specific versions confusing the end user.

Linux has gained good market share on the server side but failed to gain a decent share on the desktop. One of the key issue, according to me is the User Interface. A good user interface makes a HUGE difference in consumer apps. I think Linux lacks that. There are some versions better than other (Ubuntu?), but then, we cannot compare most of these with Mac or Windows.

I expect the same issue with Android. Unless there is a company who can focus on bringing innovation on the UI side for Android, I expect it to have the same fate as Linux on the desktop. Don’t get me wrong, I love linux, but to get mass adoption, it needs to get a new face, kind of like the Mac which is actually built on BSD. Google is a great company on the server side, but unlike Apple, their expertise is on the server side which doesn’t help Android much.

If there is good focus by vendors/manufacturers/carriers etc on the UI, Android can outsell iPhone. On the other hand, if iPhone opens up their platform (which is unlikely knowing Apple), it is going to be a totally different ball game. Even then iPhone will still have lots of other advantages with its integration with iTunes etc.

Android and iPhone are taking two different approaches in the mobile market. iPhone started as a consumer product and is now becoming a platform with the recent SDK release. Android is taking the opposite approach where it started as an open platform and is moving towards end user products. Who will win? My vote is on iPhone. What do you think?

Now that the much awaited MacWorld is here and the announcements have been made, here is my take…

MacBook Air

There is no doubt that this is a stunning piece of innovation. I’d buy one if only the price is a bit lower. Will there be a price cut in few months like we saw with iPhone? Possible, but don’t count on it. All the specs look excellent. I don’t know the maximum screen resolution on this one though. I wish they included an EVDO. For guys on the road, this is a great laptop.

iTunes Rental

As expected, this is a good move. One thing I didn’t expect though is a free upgrade to existing AppleTV customers. This comes as a surprise and I have no complains here. I am looking forward to playing with it. But frankly, I don’t care about movie rentals. I use AppleTV primarily for Video Podcasts. Its an awesome box for podcasts.

iPhone Update

The iPhone update is another expected one which is good. The best feature according to me is shortcuts (or web clipping as they call it). Now I have shortcuts to all the websites I visit regularly on my iPhone. I can’t wait for custom apps in Feb. The extra price tag for iPod Touch is a bummer though.

Time Capsule

I have been using Time Machine on my iMac successfully and I was hoping for this feature for a while. This is a good move for Apple. What is unclear is support for existing Airport Extreme customers like me. I hope it’ll work when I plug-in a hard drive to my existing Airport Extreme through USB. If not, it’ll be a bummer for existing customers. Interestingly, Steve Jobs didn’t talk about environmental friendliness of this product while he said he’d do so for all new releases. Is it because this is not built with Aluminum (like the other products?). Overall, this is a very good move.

Overall, a great start for the year. I can’t wait for more updates. I guess the wall street is expecting Steve to exceed his previous performance (MacWorld 2007 where he introduced iPhone).